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Credit cards hot on trail

Christina Proctor

A string of break-ins this summer and fall to vehicles parked at area trailheads has resulted in more than $50,000 in losses to ComCheck, a company that gives cash advances from credit cards at casinos.

Detective Tim Mazzoni, of the El Dorado Sheriff’s Department, said five thefts between July to October occurred during daytime hours at trailheads between Fallen Leaf Lake and Emerald Bay. Other, similar incidents have been reported in Nevada and Placer counties.

Authorities believe the thefts are related due to similar patterns, including the makeup of victims – women between the ages of 40 to 70 whom the primary suspect can imitate.

The primary suspect has at least one, possibly two, male accomplices, according to investigators.

In virtually every case, the suspects waited in the parking areas until the victims left to use the trails. Once the cars were unattended, the thieves used a screwdriver to break open the passenger side door lock.

Mazzoni said the suspects have been discreet, usually only taking a photo identification card and one or two credit cards.

“These people know what they’re doing,” Mazzoni said. “They don’t usually take money. The object is for the victims to not realize the cards are missing for one to three days after the crime.”

Mazzoni said the suspects then go to the casinos, where they obtain cash advances between $900 and $2,600 per transaction on the credit cards. The average take has been $12,000 per vehicle. The prime suspect uses the victims’ photo identification to receive money from cashiers.

“The woman makes herself up like the victim and runs the cards through the ComCheck machine and goes to the cashier with the receipt,” Mazzoni said. “They don’t waste any time at the casinos – just get the money and move on to the next.”

From Lake Tahoe, Mazzoni said the suspects have typically hit casinos in Carson City and then in the Reno area, where the suspects are believed to reside.

El Dorado County is working in conjunction with Placer and Nevada counties, which have been hardest hit by the thefts. The loss from victims in Nevada County is estimated at about $75,000.

Mazzoni said his department has collected some evidence related. He expects more incidents to occur on weekends as mid-week tourist traffic slows.

Anyone with information about the thefts or possible suspects is asked to contact the El Dorado Sheriff’s Department at 573-3000, or Lake Tahoe Secret Witness at 541-6800.

Mazzoni said people should avoid leaving valuables in a car at trailheads and always check belongings upon return. Car alarm systems are also a good theft deterrent.


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